Organisers decided to hold the first race of the World Match Racing Tour's Fremantle season opener in the morning, in case the wind failed to co-operate later in the day. Six-times world match racing champion Ian Williams (GBR) was up against 2014 M32 world champion Hans Wallen (SWE).
There was an outside chance no further racing would be possible, so there was a lot riding on this first race. Wallen won the start and led all the way to the top mark, but Williams was on his transom and forced an error. Although first through the gate, Wallen had to slow down and let Williams go two boat lengths ahead. The racing was close and exciting but Williams could control every cross and timed his tacks to perfection. One close cross while on port may have caused some heart palpitations, but the umpires waved the green flag (no penalty) and the British team swept to victory.
Wallen would have to wait through a long break to see if he would have a chance of redemtpion. Fortunately the Doctor came in ahead of schedule and by 2pm the boats were ready to race again in front of a large crowd.
There was a lot of high speed drag racing in the early pre-start before Williams parked in front of Wallen, denying hi a run to the line. Williams took off at speed and an early unfurling of the gennaker had the orange boat flying to the bottom mark. Wallen was slower and his first tack wasn't perfect, allowing Williams to vanish off into the distance. At the top mar the lead was 15 seconds.
Although Wallen looked good coming into the mark, an extra gybe and then a misjudgement of the layline slowed him down. The gap had grown to 20 seconds and the race was now a procession. Williams could sail conservatively on the final beat and run to take his second win.
With Wallen facing sudden death, he managed to take advantage of the start when Williams was forced to burn off some speed to avoid being OCS. Wallen was first round the reach mark but overlaid the gate and Williams went into the lead. Wallen was throwing everything he knew into the contest and managed to pull back some of the lead but at the bottom gate Williams again picked a perfect line while Wallen was forced to gybe. Williams again vanished up the course.
Finally there was some good old-fashioned match racing as Williams covered a Wallen tack and the boats were side-by-side. They tacked in unison again and accelerated at similar speeds. But Williams was much closer to the top gate, swept around first and set course for home and a $US33,000 pay day.
Rounding the bottom mark, Williams flew a hull high in the air to the cheers of the crowd. They waited for their opponents and applauded as they too crossed the line. A bottle of champagne was on its way to the victors. It was an appropriate celebration of great racing
This has been a superb event. Race management has been terrific, the conditions excellent and the sailors on form. Look for a full report in the April/May issue of Australian Sailing, in the newsagents in late March.